by Martin Maenza
Jimmy A. continued to broadcast in the booth. “Top of the seventh coming up, folks, and we’ve got us a tie ball game at three to three. Next up to bat for Gotham will be their new pitcher, Ty Hunter.”
“I’ve heard a lot about this guy,” Curt S. chimed in. “Rumor has it that he’s got a lot going on, both on and off the field.” The Metropolis announcer gave his counterpart a knowing look.
Jimmy frowned. “Well, if you believe the gossip rags and such…”
On the field, a six-foot-two brown-haired young man checked over the bats, trying to decide which he should use. One on the end caught his eye, and he snatched it up. He took a few swings. It had an interesting weight to it. Then Ty Hunter made his way to the batter’s box.
The catcher hurried up to take his place. “Sorry, ump,” he said to the home plate officiator with his head toward the ground. “Had to see a man about a horse.” The man in the Metros uniform crouched down behind the plate in his catching stance, awaiting the first pitch.
Ty Hunter took his stance and raised his bat.
The pitcher for the Metros took aim, cocked back his arm, and then let fly a fast ball. Ty swung but failed to get a piece of it. The ball slammed into the catcher’s mitt. The catcher smiled. Showtime.
Suddenly, the video screen on the giant scoreboard sprang to life with sight and sound. “What a shame, what a shame!” a shadowy figure on the video screen said loudly. “Who would have thought that the Gotham Giants’ new superstar was such a low-lying, cheating scum?”
All heads turned to the board, surprised and confused by this turn of events. There was murmuring in the crowd.
The shadowy figure continued. “I would! Ty Hunter is a dirty, rotten, adulterous dog!”
The crowd gasped.
The man in question lowered his bat in shock. “What the hell?”
“And I ought to know! I know who he’s having an affair with!” the voice said, the speaker stepping out of the shadowy backdrop to reveal a red-haired man dressed in a baseball uniform. His face was covered by a mask with a swatch of matching cloth covering his lower face. A few in the crowd recognized him.
“That’s the Sportsmaster!” exclaimed Curt S. to Jimmy A.
Stadium security immediately was dispatched to the scoreboard and the control room to find the source of the broadcast and possibly the broadcaster. The disruption halted the play of game.
The catcher stood up and moved over to Ty Hunter. “Can you believe that?” the batter said with a slight nervous tick near his eye. “Someone’s out to drag my name through the mud.”
“That,” the catcher said, “and more!” He grabbed the bat from Ty’s hand and held the rounded handle under the man’s nose. With a skict-skict sound, a noxious colorless gas shot out from the hitting instrument and into Ty’s face.
“What the–?!” the Gotham Giant exclaimed before succumbing to the sleep gas.
The catcher let the bat fall and caught Ty Hunter in his arms. “I think we better get you some place to lie down, Ty!” he said, beginning to chuckle slightly.
While most of the crowd was still focused on the display, Leo Barone noticed the odd exchange near home plate. “What the–?!” he said as he saw the catcher for the Metros moving Ty Hunter past.
Francis glanced down. “Looks like the batter fainted or something,” the priest said. “A public revelation of his sinful acts, assuming they are true, must have been too much for him. Isn’t he a married man?”
Leo shook his head. “Yeah, but something’s not right!” he said as he stood up and reached for the rail.
“What do you mean?” Francis asked.
“Rival players or not, why would the Metros player not take Ty to the Giants’ dugout? It’s right there,” Leo said as he put his left foot on the rail. Francis shrugged his shoulders. “That’s because there’s more to this than meets the eye!” The young man dropped over the rail and sprinted onto the grassy field.
Father Francis didn’t have to guess what would happen next. Leo was about to find out what was going on, despite the fact that he would have to do it without his Wildcat costume. Clothes do not make the hero, the priest thought as he said a silent prayer.
The Metros’ catcher had slung the batter over his left shoulders and was moving away from the other players. “I know all about your little mystery woman on the side, Mr. Hunter,” he said to the sleeping captive. “Oh, you’ll pay for your indiscretions. You’ll pay big!”
“Hold it!” a voice called out.
The catcher whirled around. “Damn this mask!” he said, clawing at the black crisscrossed item on his head with his free hand. “I never liked these things!” The catcher tore off the headgear to reveal another mask underneath.
“The Sportsmaster!” Leo Barone exclaimed.
“Give the kid a kewpie doll!” the villain said as he hurled the mask like a weapon at his accuser with glaring accuracy.
Leo dodged and rolled, the mask barely missing his skull by a half-inch. He rolled to his feet and started after the man again. “You gotta do better than that!”
Sportsmaster glared at him. “Look, kid, my beef isn’t with you! It’s with this guy, who’s messing with my wife!” His hand reached underneath his catcher’s protective gear and pulled out a baseball. “But if you think you’re up to playing in my league, let’s see if you can stand the heat!” The villain hurled the ball at Leo.
The young man was fast enough to move out of the way of the thrown sphere, but he didn’t get far enough. When the ball hit the ground, it exploded with a great force, sending turf and Leo flying. The dark-haired man hit the ground hard with a thud. “Uuugghhh,” he groaned to himself. “Should have been watching for that.”
Hearing another loud sound, Leo looked up in time to see smoke bursting out from the villain’s backside. The Sportsmaster and his captive lifted high and fast into the air. “A jet-pack?” Leo said. “I don’t believe it.” But in a moment, the villain was up and out of the stadium before anyone could stop him.
Leo lifted himself off the ground in disgust. Some of the Giants rushed over to him to see if he was all right and to thank him for at least trying to save their teammate. But the young hero didn’t hear any of it. His head was racing from the whole situation.
It wasn’t until his cousin Francis came over to him that he snapped back into focus. “Leo, are you OK?”
“I’m fine,” Leo replied. “Only thing hurt is my pride.”
“Yeah, but I think we better go. I’ll explain on the way.” They headed out of the arena. The crowd, still in shock over the incident, was slowly filtering out, too.
When the Barones arrived at the priest’s blue 1978 Chevy sedan and got inside, Francis turned to Leo. “You’ve got that look, cousin,” he said.
“Remember when I told you I sublet my place?” Leo said. The priest nodded as he started the car. “You’ll never guess who rented it.”
“Ty Hunter?” Francis said in surprise. “What does a big-time ballplayer want with your little place? No offense meant.”
“None taken,” Leo replied. “I wondered that myself when he showed up in answer to my ad, but now it all makes sense.”
“What makes sense?”
“Something I overheard the Sportsmaster say as he was carting Ty off.”
In a small apartment on the third floor of an old brownstone on Gotham’s south side, a young brunette woman turned off the television in disgust. “This is crazy! Crazy!” Her voice was edgy and, despite her great beauty, she looked as if every nerve was frazzled. Every evening news broadcast was covering the incident from earlier in the day, with the speculations running wild.
She was so freaked out that she had to get away. She didn’t know what made her come to the apartment, their little rendezvous spot. She just needed some solitude while she sorted it all out. It was something she couldn’t do at home, not with her husband there.
Fetching the whiskey bottle from the cupboard, she poured herself three fingers into an old jelly-jar glass. Not even enough time to get anything settled up nice, she thought, raising the glass to her quivering lips.
A slight rap at the window made her jump three feet, the drink spilling on her white tank top and the rug on the floor.
She whirled around suddenly, only to see a figure near the open window, moving back the curtain. “Who the hell are you?” she shouted. “I’ll call the police!” She reached for the counter, only to realize she had no idea where the phone was.
“Easy, Ms. Chambers,” said the dark-garbed man, his gloved hands extended palms out to show he wasn’t carrying a weapon. He stepped into the apartment, and she could see that his athletic form was covered with a tight fitting bodysuit. Around his face he wore a cowled mask with short pointy ears. Beneath the white eye slits were gray puffy cheeks with whiskers. The man’s mouth and chin were the only things uncovered by the costume. “I’m here ta help.”
“You?” Michelle Chambers asked. “You look like someone who stepped off that Broadway show.”
The hero winced slightly at the comment. Perhaps he should reconsider this costume at some point. “Look, my name’s Wildcat, and I’m an ally of Batman’s. I’m here ta help ya with this whole situation with your boyfriend.”
“Boyfriend?” the woman was taken aback. “What boyfriend? I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Her voice was cracking slightly.
“Look, lady, let’s not play cat and mouse, OK? I figure’d out that you and Ty Hunter are an item. And I realize that’s not somethin’ ya all want made public knowledge. Especially given you’re both married ta other folks.”
“Now, look…” Michelle started to protest.
Wildcat held up his hand. “Look, as far as I’m concerned, what’cha do is your own business. I’m just here ta help and try savin’ a life or two.”
Michelle Chambers was surprised by this. A costumed man she’d never heard of seemed to know all about her affair with the professional baseball player. Her head was swirling. “Look, I don’t need any help…”
“Miss, I think ya do!” Wildcat said firmly. “In case ya don’t realize it, a costumed sports nut has taken your boyfriend hostage. There’s no tellin’ what he might do with him, but my hunch tells me it won’t be long before…”
The phone suddenly rang. Both the woman and the hero paused to look in the direction of it, on the floor behind one of the chairs.
It rang a second time. “I think ya better answer it,” advised Wildcat.
The woman nodded and started to move for it.
“But,” Wildcat added, “if it turns out to be the Sportsmaster, and I’m bettin’ it is, ’cause very few know you’re here, right?” She nodded. “If it’s him, just listen ta what he has to say. Don’t say nothin’ about me being here, got it? Our only way of seeing that Ty gets through this in one piece is ta play it cool.”
Michelle nodded again, bent over, and then picked up the phone on the fourth ring. “Hello…?”
“Listen up, you tramp!” the wicked voice of the Sportsmaster said on the other end. “I’m going to lay out the terms of the exchange! You listen, and you do it, or else!”
The woman continued to listen without another word, but watched Wildcat as well. He could tell by the look on her face that she was terrified. The hero just hoped he could pull this off without any casualties.